Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Tales of the disappeared: The story of 12-year old Navaruna

New Delhi: When 12-year old Navaruna Chakravartty hugged her father goodnight and retired to bed on the night of 18 September last year, he didn’t know that he would not see his daughter again. That the months ahead would be spent in an agonising wait for a child, never knowing if she was dead or alive.

“She had just finished her exams and had put mehendi on her hands or she would have slept with us that night,” he says, second-guessing the details of that fateful 18 September, 2012 night when Navaruna Chakravartty, a class seven student of St Xavier’s School in Muzaffarpur in Bihar, went missing from her house on Jawaharlal Lal Road.

At around 5 am the next morning, Chakravartty and his wife went to the town’s police station to file a first information report (FIR) for the incident. The then Station Head Officer (SHO) of the Muzaffarpur Police Station, Jeetendra Prasad (who was to take over as investigation officer for the case later) filed the FIR and handed its investigation to Senior Inspector, Amit Kumar.

It marked the beginning of a nightmare of police obstruction, misdirection and intimidation.

“The police did not take it seriously at all – they didn’t get dogs to pick up tracks, they didn’t come and seal off the bedroom or issue alerts on the border. They did not even come and survey the room,” Chakravartty says, adding, “We didn’t touch anything in the room for at least 30 days after the incident, hoping that the police would come and want to survey it. But, nobody came.” The police finally visited the Chakravartty’s home on 22 October, more than a month after Navaruna’s disappearance.

Amit Kumar, the investigation officer assigned to the case, had been a police officer for only 2.5 years and recently joined the Muzaffarpur Police station. He handled the case in its initial stages for a little over a month. Kumar told Firstpost that he pursued the case from three angles: elopement, personal enmity and property dispute.

“The police called us to the station and told us it was a case of a love affair. We disputed it. This was despite interrogating and harassing my daughter’s two closest and best friends about it, Chakravartty told Firstpost, “My daughter was only 12. Three 12 mm thick window rods were bent from outside – and the police expect us to believe that my daughter would have had that done?”

The forensic team which visited the Chakravarttys for the first time on 4 November, too, was a farce, says Chakravartty: “They came and told us, ‘We have come only for formality’. They then took a pic of the pulled out rods and left.”

“My daughter always stood in the top 3 in class and she was very homely and studious. She used to study till 8.30 pm every night and she never went out much. How could the police have accused her of having disappeared in a case of a love affair?” Chakravartty said.

Chakravartty proved to be right. After months of interrogating family and friends, the police ruled out the love angle.

Navaruna’s father alleges that the Police have all along known where his daughter was being held – and by who. But, that, till date they haven’t taken any action because the culprits were rich and powerful.

“It became a routine for me to call the police station everyday to ask about the progress of my daughter’s case. On 13 October when I called the then Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Rajesh Kumar, he told me, ‘I promise you. I will recover your daughter very soon’,” the father said, adding, “He kept saying things like ‘I’ll give u a Navratra gift’, ‘I will give u a gift on Vijay Dashmi‘ – but my daughter never came back.

The local media, by then had started covering the case and the police expressed concern over it. They told Chakravartty not to tell spread word about the incident or to talk to the media, claiming that news coverage would endanger his child.

“On 28 October, when ADGP Gupteshwar Pandey visited us he told us ‘If you make noise, your daughter will be killed’,” Chakravartty said.

“They make us feel like we made a mistake by filing an FIR. Instead of finding the real culprits the police instead got the call records of relatives we regularly spoke to and went to their homes and threatened them. The police even went to Delhi and threatened our older daughter who is studying to be a chartered accountant and told her that if we made a scene about it Navaruna would die,” said Chakravartty.

Faced with police stonewalling, Chakravarttys got help from an unlikely source: students from Delhi University, among them final year Law student, Abhishek Ranjan who hails from a small town 40 kms away from Muzaffarpur, where Navaruna’s incident took place. He also spent close to four years in Muzaffarpur doing his graduation at the LS College between 2006 and 2010. On 20 October, soon after he heard of Navaruna’s case on Facebook, he and 19 others held a symbolic protest at DU’s North Campus against police inaction in the case. Encouraged by the response, they organised another protest at Jantar Mantar in Delhi through Facebook, which was attended by around 50 people.

On 5 November, former investigation officer of the case at the time, Amit Kumar, visited Delhi and met with students. In a conversation that Ranjan recorded on his mobile phone, a copy of which Firstpost has, Kumar said to Rajan: “I have nothing to do with what you do or don’t do. I am only come to make you understand that do only as much as is good (for you). If you do it (conduct protests), it will create pressure on us (police),” Kumar is heard telling Ranjan. “If there’s any problem or inconvenience we face, we will clip the wings of those flying high.”

On asked about the recording by Firstpost, Kumar said, “I didn’t say anything to the students or didn’t threaten them. I only asked them to cooperate with our investigations by not causing us trouble.”

On 27 November , Abhishek Ranjan Kumar, Aaditya Kumar, Rahul Maurya, Nikhil Kumar had filed a criminal writ petition and a PIL in the Supreme Court against the Union of India, Bihar government, the DGP, SSP, SHO and Amit Kumar among others. The petitioners prayed that the Supreme Court direct the respondents to a) produce Navaruna before the Court; b) to restore law and order in the State and c) to hand over the investigation of the present case to CBI among others.

On 7 January this year, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the Bihar Govt and Union of India asking them to reply to the petition within 6 weeks. The Bihar government’s reply only came on 12 April saying that the SSP has made full efforts for the search of Navaruna and also constituted a special team to find her, but, there has not been any relevant clues.

When asked about it by Firstpost, Muzaffarpur’s now Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Saurav Kumar said, “I can’t comment. I just joined the station and the case is anyway transferred to the CID. Only they can comment on the same.”

No comment, no trace, no justice. Navaruna has become a statistic, one of the 90,000 Indian children who disappear from their homes each year.

This piece was written for Firstpost.com

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